Defusing Difficult Situations

You may have witnessed a situation in which a caregiver was getting overly angry, frustrated, threatening or even beginning to hit, slap or otherwise hurt a child, as seen in the video below.

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You may have left the situation feeling concerned for the child’s well-being and wondering what you could have done. Sometimes you may be able to defuse a difficult situation by taking the time to calmly offer help and support as the waitress does in the video below.

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Strategies for Defusing Difficult Situations

  • A quiet presence may be all that is needed
  • Avoid judgmental attitudes
  • Sympathize with the frustrations and stress that parent/children may be experiencing
  • Address the stressors
  • Identify situations where it is not safe to intervene and call the authorities

Sample Statements

  • “Is anything wrong?”
  • “May I help you with anything?”
  • “It looks like you are having a hard time (rough day).  May I help you with anything?”
    • These statements allow both parent and child to respond; alerts parent that others are watching; and creates a break in the behavior, but doesn't rebuke or criticize.
  • “It's hard for a 2 year old to sit still/behave for long periods. Would it help if I found something for him to play with?”
    • This highlights that the child's behavior is developmentally normal, not “bad” and models the use of distraction.
  • “You've been waiting a long time." Or “Active children your son's age can test your sanity at times, especially when you are under pressure.”  Followed by, “May I…give you a break…get you a drink of water…get him a toy…take him to the play area?”
    • This is sympathetic to parent's stress/needs and doesn't make child look bad.

However, you may also recognize that t​he child is in imminent danger of being hurt. Call 911 for immediate help, as the man in the video below does.​

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